Jaeah Lee

Reporter

Jaeah reports, writes, codes, and charts at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, WiredChristian Science Monitor, Global Post, Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and Grist. She was a 2013-14 Middlebury fellow in environmental journalism. Her work has been named a finalist in the Data Journalism Awards. In a former life, she researched and wrote about China at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Charts: Dirty Energy's Election Ad Spending Spree

| Wed Apr. 18, 2012 1:50 PM EDT

Hey there, swing state resident: Does this ad look familiar?

The video, which got 1.3 million views in the last two weeks, is sponsored by the American Energy Alliance. AEA, as it turns out, is one of several pro-oil and gas interest groups spending oodles of cash on campaign advertisements in 2012, according to a new analysis by Think Progress. (MoJo's Alyssa Battistoni gets into the weeds with—and righteously fact-checks—these ads here.)

Taken together, the AEA (which is partially funded by the Koch brothers) and others have spent at least $16.75 million in advertisements. By contrast, the Obama campaign and his super-PAC have spent a fraction of that defending his energy policies. Here's how the money stacks up:

Mother Jones illustration.: Source: Think Progress; Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis GroupMother Jones illustration. Source: Think Progress; Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group

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Will Pennsylvania Reverse its Gag Order on Fracking Chemicals?

| Mon Apr. 16, 2012 4:56 PM EDT
A natural gas pipeline in Plains Township, Pennsylvania.

As the debate over a controversial "gag" provision in Pennsylvania's new natural gas law ratchets up, state legislators are considering revoking the provision altogether.

The law (known as Act 13), which went into effect on Saturday, allows drilling companies to keep information about the composition of fracking fluid from the public in the name of guarding proprietary information. Pre-existing Pennsylvania law grants an exception to this rule for health professionals, who have the right to request and receive information about fracking fluid composition in order to diagnose or treat a patient who may have been exposed to the chemical.

But as MoJo's Kate Sheppard reported previously, a last-minute provision in Act 13 requires health professionals to sign confidentiality agreements with gas drilling companies, which critics argued would prohibit doctors from discussing the fracking fluid formula with their patients. Gov. Tom Corbett's top energy official since clarified that doctors would still be allowed to share information about fracking fluid chemicals with patients, just not with a broader audience.

"It leads some to believe that it's not about that, but it's about keeping the public in the dark."

That distinction isn't made clear in the statute (PDF), says Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat representing the 17th district. When the bill passed in March, Leach called the provision "broad" and "troubling." Now he plans to introduce a new bill (due out later this week) that will challenge the confidentiality provision and seek to clarify its terms.

"Act 13, as written, raises a number of issues which impede the timely and appropriate provision of health care to patients, and put health care professionals needlessly at legal risk," Leach wrote in a public statement released Friday.

Calculator: How Much Does Using Coal Really Cost?

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Each month, Americans households spend an average $111 on electricity—chump change considering we need it to do just about everything from watching television to charging our laptops to just getting around in the dark. Much of our electricity comes from coal, a relatively plentiful and accessible energy resource in the United States, but coal's abundance masks a dirty truth: Burning coal fills the air with toxic pollutants, with scary and sometimes fatal health consequences, particularly for people living near the power plants that fuel your home. What would happen to your monthly bill if utilities actually paid for these hidden costs? Use our calculator to find out.

Figures rounded to the nearest dollar. Sources: Clean Air Task Force; Energy Information Administration (PDF); EPA; Paul R. Epstein, Harvard Medical School. Additional reporting by Alyssa Battistoni and Hamed Aleaziz.

What Your Shampoo Bottle Isn't Telling You

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 6:04 PM EST

I'm not the most discerning shopper when it comes to buying cosmetics or household products. (Why are parabens bad for you, again?) So if I saw the chemical diethanolamine listed on the back of a shampoo bottle, or decamethylcyclopentasiloxane on a surface cleaner, it probably wouldn't stop me from buying it. But chances are I'd never see those those names, anyway.

The main reason for this, a new study in yesterday's Environmental Health Perspectives points out, is that the state of product labeling in the US is pretty poor. How poor? The study's researchers—who analyzed samples from 213 different consumer products ranging from cat litter to shaving cream, sunscreen, dishwater detergent, mascara, and vinegar—detected some 55 toxic chemicals. Many of these, they report, weren't listed on the labels of products tested.

"The study shows that we are exposed to a complex mixture of toxic chemicals simply by going through our normal routines," Andy Igrejas, who heads the group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said in a press release.

Labels are important, the study's authors write, because they help scientists determine whether (and to what degree) consumer products are responsible for toxic chemicals entering our bodies. We already know about some chemicals detected in the study (which was led by the Silent Spring Institute and partly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): Fragrances, BPA, phthalates, among others, are associated with a variety of health risks, most commonly asthma and endocrine disruption.

Improved research, in turn, would help consumers like me a ton. For example: With better labeling and due diligence on my part, I might have known that using a shampoo containing diethanolamine might irritate the nose, throat, and skin. Some animal studies have linked the chemical with increased blood pressure and impaired vision. I might also have known that decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (a.k.a. D5) is a compound widely used in cleaning, personal care, and baby products that's also pretty toxic; studies have shown D5 to be potentially carcinogenic, and can harm the nervous system, fat tissue, liver, and immune system (PDF)—all things that would sway me to opt for a cleaner free of these chemicals.

But the solution isn't just about better labeling, Igrejas says. "We need the federal government to sort through the chemicals on the market and ensure they are restricted where necessary."

Until then, it'll be up to consumers to decide what products are best avoided. As a start, we've already written about what to watch out for in sunscreen and household cleaners, researched the scary world of BPA, and sought the truth behind eco-labels.

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